A single, hard-working mother from New Orleans buys a restaurant with no previous experience, works every job within it to learn the ropes of an entrepreneur and builds a hospitality empire in the process.
A Mexican immigrant begins in an overnight janitorial role in the United States, moves to washing dishes in fine-dining restaurants and eventually serves as Corporate Chef for a chain of over 150 steak houses across the world.
Fifty years apart, different genders, backgrounds and career steppingstones – Ruth’s Chris Steak House founder Ruth Fertel and Western Regional Culinary Director Luis Gomez have more in common than one might initially think. With no prior restaurant experience, both built their “American Dream” through Ruth’s Chris Steak House, one sizzling plate of steak at a time.
Luis grew up the middle child in a household with nine kids. He had two older brothers, two younger brothers, two older sisters and two younger sisters. Among his earliest memories, Luis remembers watching his mom whip eggs by hand for her chiles rellenos.
Thirty-three years ago he made the move to the United States and began work as an overnight janitor, cleaning buildings from 5 p.m. until 5 a.m. The work was hard, but more importantly, it was clear to Luis after a few years that this wasn’t the life he relocated for. Around that same time, his older brother Manuel Gomez told him about an opening as a dishwasher in Irvine, CA. Luis reluctantly took the role not knowing that his culinary career would skyrocket from here.
Luis was instantly impressed by the Ruth’s Chris “passion for the brand, the consistency of the brand and how much they cared for their people.” He also fell in love with cooking. His career progressed from dishwasher to prep cook, line cook, to sous chef, Executive Chef/GM, to Corporate Regional Chef and before he knew it – in 2015 he was cooking with the Ruth’s Chris team to celebrate the restaurant group’s 50th anniversary at the famed James Beard House in New York City.
Luis is mindful to pay it forward by consistently recognizing his team. “The dishwasher is a tough position,” said Luis. “Recognize the people who work behind the table because these could be the future chefs, line cooks, etc. It is also okay to stay a dishwasher.” Having first-hand experience working his way up through many back of the house positions, Luis critically values all positions in a restaurant as he knows how much they all contribute to its success.
Shortly before Ruth Fertel’s death in 2002, Luis was fortunate to meet the Ruth’s Chris Steak House Founder (and namesake) “Ms. Ruth” during a visit to the original location. Ruth walked the dining room at her original New Orleans location, greeting each and every person in his party. “It was a highlight for me, that she took the time, even though she was ill, she put in time with people.”
Fast forward to today and Luis has trained hundreds of kitchen team members and chefs throughout the Ruth’s Chris system. Chef Luis often thought of his mom working hard in his family kitchen growing up, especially when he would beat a dozen eggs for the Ruth’s Chris bread pudding recipe as she did for the chili rellenos. He has often reflected back to those early days and wondered how his mom did it all, getting the food on the table while handling the cooking on her own. Cooking clearly runs in the family as Luis’s brother, Manny Gomez, now serves as the Executive Chef at the Irvine, California restaurant.
From overnight shift janitorial staff to a robust culinary career working his way up every rung in the ladder back of house, Luis feels deeply connected with Ms. Ruth in that neither of them had culinary experience before Ruth’s Chris and have truly worked their way into the “American Dream.” In his down time, you can find Luis running or cooking anything possible on his grill outdoors.